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Habitat and behaviour

Tuesday 1 October 2013, by Sophie Duhautois

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In France, the Corncrake occurs mainly in hay meadows within alluvial valleys. Pairs settle directly in such areas when they return from migration.

The habitat used by the species must satisfy certain criteria. Thus, clumps of tall vegetation (reeds, reed canary-grass, rumex, marshmallow, ...) alongside or in the fields provide refuge for the species when, for example, grass growth is slow in spring.

Flood plains are regularly occupied by Corncrakes. Although most of the time the species settles in hay meadows, a few cases of establishment in grazed or artificial meadows, or fields of cereal crops, have been reported. Corncrake sightings are more frequent in the marshes by the edge of ponds or peatlands. Both well-drained as well as permanently flooded areas are avoided.

Significance of the type of vegetation

<media96|insert|left|Credits>Corncrakes favour areas which have generally tall vegetation reaching over 60 cm, with a thick substratum. Because the birds are unable to move through very dense vegetation, floral diversity, including broad-leaved plants, is an important feature. Meadows with low vegetation diversity are less attractive.

The typical vegetation of breeding sites consists of mint, yarrow, oenanthe, gratiola, docks and marsh ragwort...


<media161|insert|left|Credits>A secretive bird, the Corncrake becomes active after sunset and calls almost continuously at night until dawn.
Since the Corncrake spends most of its time hidden in tall vegetation, it is extremely hard to watch during daylight hours. When moving, it keeps its head lower than the rest of the body. From time to time, it extends its neck above the grass stems to look around and start calling.
It is rarely seen in flight. If it is flushed, it prefers to move through vegetation in the manner of a small mammal. When it is absolutely forced to take to the air, its flight is slow and over short distances only.


The Corncrake feeds on a wide range of invertebrates, but also on seeds and green parts of plants found in the meadows where it lives. It sometimes ventures into cultivated fields nearby where it will take seeds and young shoots.